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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The blanket of new greenery that Miss Sasaki finds breaking through
the ruins of the city in Chapter Four is both a symbol of renewal
and regeneration as it is an ironic symbol of man’s simultaneous
achievement and failure. While people like Miss Sasaki will take
years to heal their bodies and minds, nature is not conquered or cowed
by the bomb.
Dr. Sasaki spends much of his time after the bombing trying
to remove the thick, ugly scars called keloids that have grown over
bad burns suffered by bomb victims. In time, he and the other doctors come
to realize that much of their work has done more harm than good.
In this way the keloids symbolize the continuous difficulties the
people of Hiroshima have in trying to deal with the damage wrought
by the bomb. They are overwhelmed and confused by the attack and
its biological and social aftereffects. The keloids also play an
important role in the sad story of the Hiroshima Maidens, the young,
scarred women who are taken to the U.S. to get plastic surgery.
When they return to Japan they find that they have become objects
of “public curiosity” as well as “envy and spite.” There are many
social effects of keloids: employers do not want to hire people with
such scars, and people do not want their children to marry people
who possess these symptoms of radiation sickness. The keloids mark
people as survivors of the attack, and they serve as a reminder of
the destruction. These scars are a glaring physical symbol of both the
damage inflicted by the bomb and the naïve ineptitude of those trying
to heal Japan’s wounds after the war.
Although in many works of literature water is a symbol
of purity and life, the water in Hiroshima is a
cause of death and disease. When Mrs. Nakamura and her children
drink from the river, they end up vomiting the rest of the day because
it has been polluted. Mr. Tanimoto expends all his energy transporting
injured people across the river to Asano Park, but many of them
end up drowning in the rising tide. Floods from a terrible storm
wash away hospitals, houses, and bridges that had survived the bombing.
Because of these disasters the water in Hiroshima becomes
a symbol of the invisible pervasiveness of devastation. Something
that is supposed to be pure and uncorrupted—something that should
give life—is instead causing death and destruction. The fact that
the bomb is able to spoil something as elemental and natural as
water speaks to its unnatural power.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Hiroshima!